Art

In the service of Kathakali

Kottakkal Gopi Nair

Kottakkal Gopi Nair   | Photo Credit: Sajith Moothakorambu

Kottakkal Gopi Nair broadened the horizons of the classical art form by promoting it generously

Kottakkal Gopi Nair has played many roles in his life — as a Kathakali artiste, guru, mentor, troupe manager, businessman, social worker and philanthropist. The nonagenarian is also a raconteur with a superb memory for names and dates. Stories of tact and diplomacy, of lessons learnt, of friendship and camaraderie, funny incidents all cascade, with no malice or regrets.

He recalls a lighter moment from the 1940s. In the emotionally charged scene of Hanuman meeting Sita in Lavanasuravadham, the audience were so moved that they came on to the stage and dropped coins in his hands with no thought to the action on stage. The coins added up to more than their fee for the day, Gopi remembers with a chuckle.

Born in 1926 as the twelfth and youngest son in a well-to-do agriculturist family, Gopi was initiated into the art form by his cousin, a Kathakali artiste.

Though it was unusual for a boy from an affluent background to take up Kathakali those days, Gopi showed his mettle by sticking to the rigorous training schedule. He took up Kathakali after his fifth standard and had his début at the age of 12 in 1938. Gopi’s family supported his interest and budding career, employing a guru and accompanying artistes who stayed in the family home.

After a few years of initial training, the search for a guru took him to Kottakkal in 1945. He officially joined the PSV Natya Sangham in 1946 and was trained by Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon and then by Kavalappara Narayanan Nair. Later, Gopi received intensive training from the late Vazhenkada Kunju Nair for six years. After he completed his training, Gopi was appointed as an artiste and guru in PSV Natyasangham. He performed mainly female and minukku roles such as Brahmana, Kuchela and Narada.

In 1961, his career took another turn as he was given the additional responsibility of managing the Kathakali troupe. It was in this sphere that Gopi left his stamp.

In an era when PSV Natya Sangham was growing into a force to reckon with with numerous programmes in and out of Kerala, it was Gopi who fronted that effort. His emphasis was on the programme’s quality. As he took up handling management, his stage career became secondary, though he continued to be a guru and mentor to a generation of artistes.

Although Gopi retired from Natyasangham in 1986, he was persuaded to stay for another 10 years. After he called it a day in 1996, Gopi gave up his acting career too, except for a few rare events.

All for art and society

Today, 23 years after leaving Kottakkal, he remains busy in the service of art and society. He is the recipient of the 2019 Kunju Nair Samsthuthi Samman, which carries a purse of ₹1 lakh. A 40-minute documentary, Njan Gopi Nair, has been directed by Vinu Vasudevan.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 9:36:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/how-kottakkal-gopi-nair-broadened-the-horizons-of-kathakali/article30622891.ece

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